Here in Philly, the Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes — a massive, seafood-packed meal in honor of the holiday — is a well-known and oft-celebrated event for Italian American families. But when he was growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960s and ’70s, Blaise Tobia never heard of it.

So, when he came to Philadelphia to work at Drexel University in the 1980s, and folks started asking him how he, an Italian American with roots in western Sicily, celebrated the tradition, he was pretty confused.

“We said, ‘What?,’ ” Tobia, professor emeritus of art and art history at Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Art, Media, and Design says. “And they said, ‘Well, how could you be Italian American and not know about the Seven Fishes dinner?’”

Easy, Tobia says: It simply wasn’t known in most of New York at the time, though it’s increasingly celebrated by families and at restaurants there today. And — at least as we know it — it’s not a widespread tradition in Italy itself, though there may be some similar traditions in some areas of the country, adds Tobia, who has been involved with the America-Italy Society of Philadelphia for more than 30 years.

What is the Feast of the Seven Fishes?

So, where did the Feast of the Seven Fishes come from, exactly? No one knows for sure — but Tobia says that it’s solidly an Italian American tradition rooted in the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from eating meat on Christmas Eve. But he strongly suspects that it originated, or was at least popularized, right here in Philly before it spread out to other areas of the country, the Big Apple included.

“Maybe Philly should be proud,” Tobia says. “It may be something that is actually affecting its bigger twin city in a way that doesn’t normally happen.”

He might have a point. While there’s no conclusive proof of it starting in Philly, the earliest newspaper clipping we know of that references the Feast of the Seven Fishes actually comes from a December 1983 Inquirer story mentioning a take on it from Center City’s La Buca, which closed up shop earlier this year.

Either way, though, this fishy tradition arrives every year, packed with baccala (salted, dried cod), eel, octopus, squid, clams, smelts, shrimp, salmon, and just about any other fish or seafood you can think of. Often, it exceeds the seven dishes of its name, sometimes bringing up to a dozen or more plates, depending on who’s making it.

And these days, plenty of people and places are. So, with that in mind, we’ve rounded up quite a few restaurants in the city, suburbs, and South Jersey that are offering a Feast of the Seven Fishes, either for dine in or take out. Mangia.

Bistro Romano

🗓 Dec. 24; $75 per person, dine in

Bistro Romano’s Seven Fishes menu on Christmas Eve includes uni butter on toast, fluke crudo with habanero, squid salad, lobster “cappuccino” (a poached lobster with whipped crème fraîche), spaghetti and clams, and roasted rare tuna. But there’s also a vegetarian option with carrot soup, semolina cavatelli with broccoli rabe, and truffle mushroom risotto, as well as a meatier version featuring N.Y. strip, black pepper macaroni with pancetta, and gnocchi with prosciutto cotto.

📍 120 Lombard St., 📞 215-925-8880, 🌐 bistroromano.com, 📷 @Bistro.Romano

Branzino Italian Ristorante

🗓 Dec. 24; $85 per person; dine in

Considering they’re named after a fish, it only makes sense to see branzino here. This Center City restaurant’s Seven Fishes menu includes a hamachi crudo, smoked mussel escabeche, squid ink lumache pasta, and branzino (of course), cacciucco with fregola sarda, cockles, and shrimp in shellfish brodo. For dessert, choose from spiced olive oil cake with apple compote, chocolate budino with burnt marshmallow cream, or gelato or sorbet.

📍 261 S. 17th St., 📞 215-790-0103, 🌐 branzinophilly.com, 📷 @BranzinoPhilly

Cry Baby Pasta

🗓 Dec. 24; $55 per person; dine in

The Foy family keeps their dine-in feast streamlined with three courses, plus dessert — but you’ll still find seven fishes here. The meal starts with lobster arancini, fried calamari, clams casino, salmon rillettes, and scallop tortellini, followed by a grilled octopus salad with capers and currants, and, finally, crab tagliatelle in a creamy red pepper sauce. Plus, it all ends sweet with a dessert sampler featuring rainbow cookies, eggnog budino, and chocolate peppermint bites.

📍 627 S. 3rd St., 📞 267-534-3076, 🌐 crybabypasta.com, 📷 @CryBabyPasta

Figo

🗓 Dec. 23; $55 per person (two person minimum); dine in

There are plenty of options to choose from at Figo (Italian for “cool”) in the Piazza in Northern Liberties. It all starts off with a Caesar salad with anchovy caper crostini and a seafood antipasto. For your third course, choose from shrimp gemelli pasta or crab spaghetti. For the fourth, it’s your pick of cioppino, branzino, grilled langostino, or lobster or clam pizza. And for dessert? Go with an affogato with tableside espresso, or straight up gelato (vanilla or coffee).

📍 1033 N. Second St., 📞 267-245-9625, 🌐 figoitalian.com, 📷 @FigoItalian

The Fin

🗓 Dec. 24; $95 per person (plus $80 for wine pairings); dine in

Newly open in the former Mad Rex space, The Fin heads into the holidays with two Feast of the Seven Fishes options. The first is a Cajun-style seafood boil loaded with scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, crawfish, and crab (available all Christmas Eve week). And the second is a more traditional, eight-course menu featuring cobia tartar, razor clams, fried smelt, grilled sardines, cioppino, lobster ravioli, baked branzino, and panettone with cannoli cream for dessert (Christmas Eve only).

📍 1000 Frankford Ave. #1, 📞 215-593-2228, 🌐 thefinusa.com

Fishtown Pickle Project

🗓 Dec. 21; $35 per person; dine in

Not a fish fan? Not a problem. You can still (kind of) celebrate the tradition with Fishtown Pickle Project and Fishtown Social. Dubbed Feast of the Seven Pickles, this one has seven pickle-focused plates (think half-sour pickle with Gouda cheese, black garlic vinegar-pickled turnip hummus, and Czerw’s kielbasa with fermented Brussels kraut) paired with a wine flight from Mural City Cellars. You can buy tickets online, but walk-ins are welcome, too.

📍 1525 Frankford Ave. (Fishtown Social), 📞 215-515-6045, 🌐 fishtownpickles.com, 📷 @FishtownPickles

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Fork

🗓 Dec. 24; $95 per person; dine in

Ellen Yin’s flagship restaurant Fork has a multicourse Christmas Eve menu with clam toast with tarragon, scallop crudo, monkfish terrine, squid escabeche, and torched mackerel with trout roe. For the main dish, choose between a whole roasted branzino, or a N.Y. strip with marrow bone, and wrap it up with Christmas cookies and buche de noel. Not enough? Add some oysters on the half shell with rosé mignonette or a house-made charcuterie board for an additional charge.

📍 306 Market St., 📞 215-625-9425, 🌐 forkrestaurant.com, 📷 @ForkRestaurant

Gran Caffe L’Aquila

🗓 Through Dec. 24; prices vary; dine in or takeout

This Center City favorite takes a culinary journey to Cilento, just south of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, for its Seven Fishes menu, which is available for dine in and catering. The à la carte menu includes insalata di mare (seafood salad with shrimp, scallops, conch, and cuttlefish), zuppetta di pesce (a tomato-based seafood stew), seafood-stuffed cannelloni, baccala, and grilled branzino. Order catering for pickup via the restaurant’s website, or place orders for delivery via Caviar or Mercato.

📍 1716 Chestnut St., 📞 215-568-5600, 📷 @GranCaffeLAquila, 🌐 grancaffelaquila.com

Hearthside

🗓 Dec. 21-23; $150 per person; dine in

Chef Dominic Piperno’s Collingswood BYOB is a noted favorite of Craig LaBan’s, and if you’ve never eaten there, their Seven Fishes menu is a good a place to start. This year’s offerings include a chilled seafood salad, baccala carpaccio, crispy calamari with cherry peppers, mussels in red sauce, linguine with clams, campanelle pasta with baby octopus, seafood risotto, cioppino, and swordfish puttanesca.

📍 801 Haddon Ave., Collingswood, N.J., 📞 856-240-1164, 🌐 hearthsidebyob.com, 📷 @HearthsideBYOB

High Street Philly

🗓 Dec. 20-24; $145 for a platter (serves 10); takeout

High Street helps you celebrate at home with their Feast of Seven Fishes platter, which is available for pickup the week of Christmas Eve. This traditional-ish take includes enough food to serve 10 people with dishes like citrus-cured salmon, marinated white anchovies, shrimp cocktail, smoked trout rillettes, poached seafood salad, olive and potato octopus salad, and tuna crudo. Order ahead via High Street’s page on Tock.

📍 101 S. St., 📞 215-625-0988, 🌐 highstreetonmarket.com, 📷 @HighStPhilly

Izakaya by Yanaga

🗓 Dec. 22-23; $60 per person; dine in

Who says the Feast of the Seven Fishes has to be Italian? Chef Kevin Yanaga’s Japanese take on the tradition is a sushi-focused seven courses featuring hamachi sashimi, salmon crispy rice, octopus robata, shrimp tacos in wonton shells, spider rolls, Chilean sea bass onigiri, and bluefin tuna chirashi, all served with sides like bok choy, shishito, and wasabi rice. And, of course, ice cream for dessert.

📍 1832 Frankford Ave., 📞 267-310-3554, 🌐 byyanaga.com, 📷 @IzakayaByYanaga

Kensington Quarters

🗓 Dec. 22-24; $125 per person; dine in

At eight courses (plus dessert), Kensington Quarters’ Feast of the Seven Fishes menu is a serious one. Dishes include anchovy milk bread and fried sardinettes as an amuse-bouche, followed by a tasting menu packed with oysters and caviar, baked mussels, scallop crudo, poached bluefin tuna, lobster agnolotti, roasted turbot, and steamed cod. For dessert, there’s pate de fruit and shortbread, mont blanc (a chestnut puree vermicelli with whipped cream), and lemon sorbet with vodka.

📍 1310 Frankford Ave., 📞 267-314-5086, 🌐 kensingtonquarters.com, 📷 @KensingtonQuarters

La Famiglia Ristorante

🗓 Through Dec. 30; $75 per person; dine in

It’s a classic Italian feast at Old City’s La Famiglia, which has its Seven Fishes menu through the end of the month (reservations required). This one is five courses, starting with baccala salad, then spaghetti and clams in a red or white sauce, and a fritto misto with fried calamari, eel, and shrimp. For the main course, there’s branzino in a white wine sauce and whiting in a tomato and olive oil sauce. Struffoli, a fried dough rolled in honey, caps it off.

📍 8 S. Front St., 📞 215-922-2803, 🌐 lafamiglia.com

La Stalla

🗓 Dec. 24; prices vary; dine in

Head out to Newtown’s La Stalla for a Feast of the Seven Fishes menu on Christmas Eve. The à la carte menu includes options like lobster bisque, crab mango martinis, baccala salad with cherry peppers, capellini positano with crab in a garlic white wine sauce, lobster tail, and whole branzino. Got a fish-averse eater in your midst? Their regular menu is also available.

📍 18 Swamp Rd., Newtown, 📞 215-579-8301, 🌐 lastallarestaurant.com

The Olde Bar

🗓 Dec. 24; $85 per person; dine in

Chef Jose Garces’ Olde Bar has a dine-in, seven-course feast this year built around a pesce- packed, prix fixe tasting menu. Here, you’ll find madai crudo in a yuzo soy vinaigrette, shrimp cocktail, clams in white wine with grilled baguette, oysters Rockefeller, curried mussels with Thai basil and Chinese sausage, a bay scallop pappardelle, and pan-seared striped bass with rainbow Swiss chard.

📍 125 Walnut St., 📞 215-253-3777, 🌐 theoldebar.com, 📷 @TheOldeBarPHL

Positano Coast

🗓 Dec. 24; $75 per person; dine in

This Old City spot’s Seven Fishes menu runs for five courses, starting with a tuna crudo in a lemon vinaigrette. From there, move onto a cioppino (with octopus, mussels, and shrimp), lobster arancini, and squid ink spaghettini with crab and lemon gremolata. Cap off the savory side of the meal with a branzino filet, and finish off with their selection of Italian Christmas desserts, plus baskets of mixed nuts and clementines for snacking.

📍 212 Walnut St., 2nd Floor, 📞 215-238-0499, 🌐 positanocoast.net, 📷 @PositanoCoastPhilly

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Ristorante Toscano

🗓 Dec. 19; $45 per person; dine in

Make reservations ahead for this Feast of the Seven Fishes in Montgomery County, where the four courses run the gamut from salad to dessert. You’ll find a dozen dishes such as marinated anchovies, seafood antipasta, penne with calamari, lobster and crab ravioli, baked baccala in red sauce, panfried smelts, and more, plus Italian cookies and cannoli for dessert (if you can fit it, that is).

📍 213 N. Broad St., Lansdale, 📞 215-362-8002, 🌐 toscanolansdale.com

SliCE

🗓 Through Dec. 24; $22 for small, $30 for large, $25 for gluten-free; takeout or delivery

SliCE’s seasonal holiday pie, the Pizza of the Seven Fishes, is back and bringing us a more handheld, takeout version of this annual tradition. Available at all their locations, this pie is topped with clams, mussels, shrimp, tuna, crabmeat, and sardines, all sautéed in olive oil and garlic — then finished with anchovies, basil, and fresh lemon. For something a little lighter, also check out their seafood Caesar salad with shrimp and crabmeat.

📍 1180 S. 10th St. (also in Fishtown and Washington Township, N.J.), 📞 215-463-0868, 🌐 slicepa.com, 📷 @SliCEPA

Spasso Italian Grill

🗓 Dec. 24; $55 per person; dine in

Old City’s Spasso has a Seven Fishes feast that they call “modest,” but we’re betting you’re leaving full. This three-courser features shrimp cocktail, followed by a mixed appetizer with fried calamari, grilled calamari, fried smelts, baked mussels, and clams casino. For the main course, choose from a branzino filet over homemade capellini, or halibut with zucchini, potato puree, and sauteed asparagus.

📍 34 S. Front St., 📞 215-592-7661, 🌐 spassoitaliangrill.com, 📷 Facebook.com/SpassoPhilly

Stogie Joe’s Tavern

🗓 Order by Dec. 20 for pickup on Dec. 24; prices vary; takeout

Keeping it all in the family for your home-based Feast of the Seven Fishes this year? South Philly stalwart Stogie Joe’s has got you covered. The Christmas Eve catering menu includes classics like fried smelts, crab gravy, clams casino, littleneck and top-neck clams, and mussels in a red or white sauce (with or without pasta), plus marinated grilled salmon, shrimp cocktail, crab cakes, and more.

📍 1801 E. Passyunk Ave., 📞 215-463-3030, 🌐 stogiejoestavern.com, 📷 @StogieJoesTavern

Expert sources:
  • Blaise Tobia, professor emeritus of art and art history at Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Art, Media, and Design and longtime member of the America-Italy Society of Philadelphia.

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